Julie McCrea and Valley

Julie McCrea and Valley: Shared Her Experience with H1N1

In 2009, at the age of 31, Julie McCrea contracted H1N1. After the infection passed, her health became precarious and unpredictable. Her symptoms included: narcolepsy, severe anemia, asthma, and a serious scent and chemical sensitivity. She also has severe anxiety and claustrophobia that developed after the illness. 

McCrea explained, “An asthma attack is ‘spin the wheel of awful and see where it lands.’ Is this the death knell? The anxiety is like being held over the precipice the whole time.”

She continued, “Every time I tried to sleep, I felt like I was drowning in my own lungs.” The claustrophobia manifested differently. “I have literally had to get off buses. I couldn’t ride in an elevator in New Orleans.”

To deal with her symptoms, McCrea received EMDR [Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing] therapy through Capital Health, but the program was defunded in December 2019. 

“My benefits [through work] will get me three appointments. I felt like I was making headway.” Her voice trailed off and she shrugged in resignation.

McCrea was working as a contractor at the Cold Lake Air Force Base when she first became ill. 

“I am terrified and pissed off. I remember thinking before Covid, watching documentaries on the Spanish Flu, ‘If this happens again, I am a goner.’ I can tick off all pre-existing health conditions. What chance would I have? I was relatively healthy and younger when I got H1N1.”

“I was teaching and had to go to the bathroom because I was coughing so hard. Something in my throat popped and I sprayed blood all over the mirror.” As a contractor, she had no job security. “I was told, ‘If you’re not teaching, you no longer have the contract.’” 

As an off-location contractor, McCrea slept in the barracks. She explained what it was like to be alone in that situation. “I had no idea it was H1N1. I remember being in the barracks room, lying on the floor thinking, ‘I have to go to the hospital.’ I had a panic attack. I knew something was wrong.” When she got to the hospital, the doctor was dismissive.

McCrea relied on Greyhound to get to and from her work. She took the bus home the next day and saw her own doctor. There she was given treatment. “He gave me Theraflu and I rode it out at home.” 

Although she recovered, her health didn’t go back to normal. She had extreme fatigue and felt run down. As someone who lived alone, she wondered if anyone would find her if she died. “I was trying to at least make sure I was the smell the neighbours would notice.” She had all her identification laid out on her bedside table in case she died alone.

Ten years later, Covid hit. 

“I am terrified and pissed off. I remember thinking before Covid, watching documentaries on the Spanish Flu, ‘If this happens again, I am a goner.’ I can tick off all pre-existing health conditions. What chance would I have? I was relatively healthy and younger when I got H1N1.” 

“I am absolutely petrified.” McCrea continued, “If something happened, who would take care of Valley?” 

McCrea explained that while she doesn’t live in fear, she takes precautions, like limiting exposure to other people and wearing a mask. “I stick to a Covid circle. I do things outside as much as possible,” she said. “I get tired of the heightened vigilance. It’s not a tenable thing.”

“I order groceries online and wipe them off. I wipe my mail—but I stopped recently. It surprised me how lax I got with these things. I thought, ‘Fuck it. I can’t do this anymore.’” 

She laughed, “I am not licking doorknobs, but I do need to be careful.”

Because this was during the first wave, most people didn’t have a personal connection to someone who became ill. Many people were dismissive, saying, “It’s just a flu,” and pointed to the relatively low number of deaths. They were not aware of the complications or side effects. 

McCrea shared, “My best friend in Manchester got Covid. She miscarried. People say, ‘Oh, you survived,’ but they don’t realise what was lost.” 

She worried about others and herself—not just about death, but the possible long-term complications. “It is terrifying how lonely health issues can be. I feel like a burden, so I isolate more. I’ll always be the walking wounded. It’s not a badge anyone wants.”

Julie McCrea and Valley

She continued, “It’s important for people to know, even if you can’t see it, if I look energetic and outgoing, people don’t know how often I turn things down [that] I want to do.”

McCrea explained how socially and personally isolating an invisible disability can be. “I cancel and people take offence. Most people’s reaction is anger and frustration. ‘How dare you not be able to. You’re such a waste of time.’ Even people I’m close to who know my situation.”

McCrea knows what it is like to live with long-term side effects. It is “fairly isolating, even when you trust someone and they know your issue,” she said. “This will be a lot of people’s new reality. If people don’t understand it, it will contribute to difficulties. They have no idea what they are in for.”

Living in a bubble to avoid contracting Covid is wearing. “As time has gone by, it’s become more difficult. I have family in B.C. and Saskatchewan and I can’t visit my parents. I am not getting on a flight and sitting next to Covid Mary.”

“I am very physically affectionate with my friends. In January, I had decided to start dating. Then Covid hit. The thought of holding someone’s hand, or hugging—it’s such a weird thing. I also have Zoom fatigue. I do not want to Zoom date.” 

“I wouldn’t want anyone to live like this. I have adjusted. I love my life. I have to remind myself this is how things are going to happen. So many people do not have a ghost of an idea.”

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